Originally published on 1001Up:
It took me two years to finish Mass Effect 2. Not because there’s two years worth of content, although by the time you factor in multiple play-throughs, character options and mission selections there might be; but because my daughter was born. Yes, my gaming was interrupted by our second child – selfish, eh? Still, as a result Mass Effect 2 will always have a special place in my heart (Batman: Arkham City will too but that’s a story for another day).
I made slow progress but the design of the game was such that I could always pick up where I left off and know exactly what I was supposed to be doing, even if I hadn’t touched it in months. Part of this is the underlying theme of family in Mass Effect 2 and I think it’s the primary reason I kept going back to it, stealing thirty minutes here and there whenever I could. The way Shepard’s family was growing was, in some way, similar to my own. Each member of the Normandy’s crew was having to adjust to new arrivals into the fold just as my son and dog were having to adjust to the tiny scream-factory invading their own status quo.
The Normandy’s expanding crew each had their own personal backstory to uncover, which lead to a character specific mission that would, on completion, earn Shepard their trust. These personal adventures kept up the family theme too with some being more subtle than others. Garrus was betrayed by a team-member he trusted; Grunt (a clone of his species) wanted to go through his coming-of-age trial; Morlin had to track down a former protégé; and many of the others had direct family members in some kind of trouble.
Shepard too was like a child in a tug of war between two parents: Cerberus for saving his-or-her life and giving him-or-her a ship and a crew with which to take on the Reapers, and Earth’s Military who had provided training and position. BioWare’s skill was in making the small, personal stories have such a huge impact on the narrative, with the player knowing throughout the entire game they were heading for a one-way suicide mission to the heart of enemy territory. Without the trust and loyalty of the crew there was no way all of them (including Shepard) would survive and, crucially, if they died then they wouldn’t make an appearance in Mass Effect 3.
The final mission itself forced the player to make certain choices about who to take with them, who to stay and guard an area or escort prisoners back to the ship. The only way to know who was best suited to the job was to have completed the missions so you could understand their strengths and weaknesses. Just like you know the individual quirks of your family.
Mass Effect 2 is a brilliant game, it plays well, it’s scripted brilliantly and delivers on all fronts. That it was released at a time when my own family was growing adds an extra personal level for me but I’m sure there were themes, ideas and moments in the game that resonated with everyone who played it; more so if you made it to the end and began that final, heroic mission from the Omega-4 Relay.
That’s just one small snippet from my experiences with BioWare. From Baldur’s Gate to the Old Republic, from Two Rivers to Kirkwall, this is a company that has consistently delivered games of the highest calibre. So thank you and happy birthday – here’s to another twenty years.